Despite a recent government announcement that four more refugees on the Pacific island of Nauru had agreed to move to Cambodia, Interior Minister Sar Kheng yesterday revised that number downward, saying two who had reportedly shown interest had backed out after meeting with Cambodian officials.
In an interview with PNN TV, Kheng said that officials from the General Department of Immigration had visited Nauru after receiving word of the refugees’ interest from the Australian government. The move falls under a highly controversial agreement struck between the two governments last year in which the Kingdom promised to accept refugees being held by Australia on Nauru in exchange for A$40 million (US$28.3 million) in aid.
“We have sent officials for interviews, but the result I have received is that only two among the four volunteered to come; the other two did not wish to come to live in Cambodia,” Kheng said.
He did not mention when the two refugees, both Rohingya, were expected to arrive.
In June, Cambodia accepted four refugees – three Iranians and one ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar – who agreed to resettlement in Cambodia after being offered numerous perks, including a sizable monetary inducement.
The Rohingya has since requested to return to Myanmar, saying he missed his family, and the Myanmar Embassy is currently waiting on paperwork to process the return.
“We’re paying a lot of attention to integrating the three remaining [refugees] so that they can have the right and freedom to live like Cambodian people,” Kheng said yesterday.
Tan Sokvichea, head of the Immigration Department’s Refugee Division, said yesterday that the government of Australia and the International Organization for Migration will facilitate the process of bringing the two new volunteers to Cambodia.
“These two refugees are men, and both of them are Rohingya,” Sokvichea said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak originally said last month that the latest group of four also contained three Iranians and one Rohingya.
Ian Rintoul, of the Australia-based Refugee Action Coalition, said that while he had not heard of Cambodian officials’ trip to Nauru, it was unsurprising that there hadn’t been more interest in resettlement in Cambodia.
“The Cambodia deal is a joke. The more people that realise that, the better,” he said. “People only really see Cambodia as a stepping stone. The word that’s coming back to Nauru is that . . . the money [offered to those who go] isn’t being given to them in any lump sum that’s usable.”
“The word on Nauru is that there is no sweet deal at all . . . In terms of what they’ve heard, it’s all bad,” he continued. “They’ve got thousands of people in desperate conditions [on Nauru], and they can find four [volunteers].”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STUART WHITE